Brand Story InfographicStorytelling is a big theme in marketing today, yet few businesses recognize the power a compelling company story can have in building consumer trust and increasing sales.

A company’s story is a narrative about what it does, what it stands for, and what makes it exceptional. Great company stories are designed to inspire, creating a strong connection over time with customers and other audiences you want to influence and appeal to.

Told effectively, a company story is a bit like a great novella you can’t put down until you’ve finished and are eager to share with your peers. The key difference is a company story is not a work of fiction. In fact, that’s one of its most important components. Your story must be 100 percent true and authentic. It cannot represent what you aspire to or want to be. It must reflect the here and now and paint an accurate picture of how your business got to be where it is today.

A well-told story is the foundation of all strong brands. Think about Facebook. Most of us know it was launched from a Harvard dorm room less than 15 years ago. That small beginning makes it all the more impressive that Facebook now has more than 2 billion users worldwide.

L.L. Bean provides another example of a highly compelling company story. Company founder Leon Leonwood (L.L.) Bean was an avid outdoorsman and designed his first product, the now ubiquitous “Bean Boot,” to solve the problem of cold, wet feet he himself had experienced many times while hunting. Outdoorspeople trust the Bean name because he was one of their own.

Besides having captivating tales to tell, these companies have been so successful in storytelling because their narratives have been told repeatedly over time using many different channels of communication to the point that they are common knowledge. Consistency and repetition are key.

So what does the process of crafting and broadcasting a winning company story look like? Here are the seven fundamental steps:

  1. Identify your target audiences and what makes them tick. What are they passionate about? What need do they have that only your company can fulfill? Knowing your target audiences is very important to the process because the company story must be written directly to them.
  2. Determine exactly what makes your company distinctive. How did it get to where it is today? Does it offer something no other competitor is able to provide? Are there unique aspects about its history, leadership, or philosophy? What elements of your story will really catch the attention and admiration of your target audiences? Involve others in the process. Consider hosting a brainstorming session including the company’s leadership, front-line staff, and loyal customers.
  3. Craft the story. If you don’t have a strong writer on staff, consider hiring a professional. The story should have a strong beginning to capture readers’ attention right off the bat. And, write it like you would a short story, not a press release or advertising copy. Shoot for a length of about 500 to 800 words so you are able to say what’s important without making it so long few will read through to the end.
  4. Share the draft with a small group of individuals that really know your organization for feedback. Does it ring true? Have any important points been missed? Incorporate their feedback and share it with them a final time before the story is minted. Consider printing your company story in its entirety on your website, in your annual report, and in your company information kit or general brochure.
  5. Message map templateCreate a message map, a graphic representation of your story. The full narrative cannot be used in its entirety every time so it is important to break it down into short sound bites that can be utilized by the entire company in all forms of communication. Start by determining the central message; the most important takeaway. Then, break that central message out into four or five secondary messages and add supporting bullets from the story that support them. The end result will be a visual guide that has the central message at its center and the supporting messages surrounding it. It’s a great tool for ensuring consistency.
  6. Begin telling the story. First, make a list of all company communications pieces and tools; for example, the website, printed marketing materials, advertising, media relations, sales presentations, and social media. Then, make the necessary copy edits so that all of these elements are working together to tell your company story using the same key messages.
  7. Monitor how your story is being told. This can be incorporated into any existing form of measurement you are using to track marketing, advertising and PR results. One effective benchmark is to keep count of how many times key messages from your story appear in mentions of your company in the news media. Once you’ve been proactively telling your story, in one to three years, you can also survey your customer base to test their knowledge of your story’s key messages.

If your business is going to succeed in the long term, it has to become something more than what it sells. Telling your own unique story in a way that’s going to appeal to the emotions of its customer base is one of the best ways to distinguish your company from the competition and build a strong following of loyal customers passionate about your brand. When you put these steps into practice, you will see the connection with your customers grow over time. Those that feel they have a connection to your company beyond buying your product or service are much more likely to admire and trust it on a personal level and more likely to remain loyal customers for the long term.